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Stout v. Pathfinder Energy Services, LLC

United States District Court, Western District of Louisiana, Lafayette Division

May 26, 2015

Charles Stout
v.
Pathfinder Energy Services, LLC, et al

C. Michael Hill Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM RULING

Richard T. Haik, Sr. Judge

Before the Court is a Motion To Dismiss, Or Alternatively, Motion For Summary Judgment filed by Metropolitan Life Insurance Company ("MetLife") [Rec. Doc 28], Plaintiff, Charles Stout's ("Stout"), Opposition thereto [Rec. Doc. 31] and MetLife's Reply [Rec. Doc. 32]. Oral argument is not necessary. For the following reasons, MetLife's motion will be granted.

Background

Stout worked for Pathfinder Energy Services Inc ("Pathfinder"), a company wholly owned by Smith International, Inc. ("Smith"), [1] from April 1, 2001 until he was diagnosed with an aortic valve disorder on August 22, 2011. Smith established "The Smith International, Inc. Long Term Disability Plan For All Full Time Rotational Employees, " and employee welfare benefit plan ("the Plan") to provide long term disability ("LTD") benefits to its eligible employees and the eligible employees of its subsidiaries. The Plan is governed by the Employment Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq. ("ERISA"). The Plan states that Smith is the "Employer and Plan Administrator" and the benefits are insured by MetLife. R. 28-2. As an employee of Smith, Stout was eligible to and did participate in the Plan.

In August, 2011, Stout's treating physician, Dr. Barker, diagnosed him with aortic valve stenosis and indicated his restrictions and limitations of not lifting or carrying objects greater than 25 pounds prevented him from working. Stout applied for and was granted long term disability benefits under the Plan commencing on February 6, 2012.

On October 14, 2013, Dr. Barker submitted updated restrictions and limitations, indicating Stout was able to return to work and lift or carry up to 100 pounds. R. 31-2, Exh. H. By letter dated February 21, 2014, MetLife notified Stout that his long term disability benefits were terminated as he no longer met the Plan's definition of disabled. R. 31-2, Exh. H. MetLife indicated that the termination of benefits was based on Dr. Barker's report indicating Stout was able to return to work and to lift or carry up to 100 pounds. Id.; R. 1, ¶ 63. MetLife stated that because the updated medical information failed to support Stout's inability to perform the duties of his own occupation, his benefits would be terminated as of February 5, 2014.[2]

On July 2, and July 28, 2014, Stout, through his lawyer, submitted a letter dated July 2, 2014 to "MetLife Disability" making requests for a variety of Plan information as well as copies of numerous documents mostly related to Stout's disability benefits determinations. Id., Exhs. I, J. By letter dated August 20, 2014, MetLife responded to Stout's counsel's correspondence stating that, pursuant to ERISA, requests for Plan documents should be directed to the Plan Administrator, Smith International, Inc. Id., Exh. K. MetLife's letter referenced a "letter dated August 7, 2014, [in which] you acknowledged receipt of a copy of Mr. Stout's claims file...." MetLife further responded to each of the various requests in July 2, 2014 letter. Id. MetLife specifically advised Stout that he had 180 days, or until August 29, 2014, to appeal his denial of benefits, but that he could request an extension of the appeal deadline. Id.

Stout filed this lawsuit against MetLife, Smith, Pathfinder Energy Services, LLC, Pathfinder Energy Services LLC Plan Administrator, and Schlumberger Technology Corporation on August 20, 2014 but did not immediately serve the defendants. Two days later, on August 22, 2014, Stout requested an administrative appeal of his denial of benefits. Thereafter, by letters dated November 5 and 6, 2014, Metlife advised Stout, through his counsel, that the administrative appeal had resulted in his long term disability benefits being reinstated effective retroactively to February 6, 2014. R. 28-3, Exh. C. Stout served MetLife with the August 20, 2014 lawsuit on November 18, 2014 seeking reinstatement of long term disability benefits and statutory penalties pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(c) for MetLife's alleged failure to timely supply him with Plan documents.

MetLife filed this motion for summary judgment as to all of Stout's claims. In particular, MetLife argues that the reinstatement of Stout's long term disability benefits retroactive to February 6, 2014, makes Stout's reinstatement claim moot. Because the mootness doctrine is jurisdictional, MetLife contends this claim should be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of jurisdiction.

Legal Standards

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) allows a defendant to seek dismissal of an action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction over a plaintiffs claims. See Fed.R.Civ.P 12(b)(1); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3). "Lack of subject matter jurisdiction may be found in any one of three instances: (1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts." Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161(5thCir.2001).

Summary judgment is appropriate when "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "A genuine dispute of fact exists when evidence is sufficient for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party, and a fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit." Willis v. Cleco Corp., 749 F.3d 314, 317 (5th Cir.2014). "A party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the record which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." EEOC v. LHC Group, Inc., 773 F.3d 688, 694 (5th Cir.2014). If the moving party meets this initial burden, "the onus shifts to 'the nomnoving party to go beyond the pleadings and by her own affidavits, or by ...


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